Jessica Leslie
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Jessica Leslie

Allendale, Michigan, United States

Allendale, Michigan, United States
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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


A driver who caused a death makes amends by speaking about the ills of drunken driving.
Associated Press
Published January 16, 2006
DELRAY BEACH - Every morning, Jessica Leslie thinks about the man she killed.

She spends the rest of the day trying to forgive herself.

It's been 10 months since she left prison, but for the rest of her life she'll be branded: Felon. Youthful offender. Danger to society. Killer.

For the rest of her life, she'll be haunted by the sight of that arm around the left front tire of her Toyota Celica.

Four years ago, Leslie was celebrating her plans to join the U.S. Air Force.

Now she stands in front of 250 strangers and explains how she went from being vice president of Students Against Drunk Driving in high school to pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter.

Sitting in the living room of her Delray Beach apartment, Leslie, 24, unflinchingly talks about the night she ended Patrick McDonough's life.

"I had two beers and two shots," she said.

It was Nov. 23, 2001. Thanksgiving. She and a friend, whom she identifies only as Dave, had gone to a nightclub in Fort Lauderdale where she had previously worked. At 4:03 a.m., she took money out of an ATM and drove out of a parking garage.

"I don't remember driving. I woke up on impact," she said. It was just before 6 a.m.

She and her friend walked across the street to find a pay phone. When she returned, a sheriff's deputy was standing next to her car.

As Leslie approached the deputy, she saw a tuft of hair underneath the front of her car. She thought it was an animal. Then she saw the arm.

"The officer just put me in cuffs right away and put me in the back of his car," she said.

At one point, she asked him, "Sir, did I kill someone?"

"Yes ma'am, you did," the deputy replied.

Over the next several hours, she told investigators, in detail, that she had been driving drunk. She was 20 at the time of the wreck.

McDonough, 41, whom Leslie barreled over on a median and dragged about 30 feet at U.S. 441 and Glades Road, was a vendor for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel .

McDonough was raised in Lutherville, Md., the middle child of three. He was born with a detached retina, and at just over a year old lost one eye.

At age 10, he told his mother he would one day move to Florida.

He moved to Pompano Beach in 1989 to help a friend start a pool cleaning company, though the business foundered.

"He was a very loving, giving, forgiving kind of person," his mother, Claire McDonough, said from her Maryland home, where her son's furniture remains in his childhood bedroom. "He was very serious in regards to loyalty and honesty."

Leslie's blood-alcohol level was 0.15 percent, nearly twice the level at which a person is presumed to be too drunk to drive.

"She deliberately drank underage and defiantly got in that car," Claire McDonough said.

But she also immediately took responsibility and showed genuine remorse.

And because of that, Claire McDonough said she decided Leslie, who was facing a possible 15-year prison term, should not waste her life in prison.

"This is what my son would have wanted," she said. "I know in my head that forgiving her releases a burden, but in my heart, as a mother, it hurts. It really hurts."

At the time, Assistant State Attorney Elizabeth Parker said Leslie was too young and too forthcoming with her guilt to spend a decade in prison.

"I could see this had a dramatic effect on her," Parker said. "It's very rare for someone to step forward the night of, on scene, and show remorse and accept responsibility for their actions.

"This was a very rare case where the victim's family didn't want to see another person hurt, knowing that Jessica was such a young girl who had a life full of so many opportunities ahead of her."

Claire McDonough believed Leslie would make more of an impact on the community in her son's name through community service and speaking to students about drunk driving dangers.

On Nov. 18, 2003, prosecutors offered Leslie a plea bargain limiting her prison time to 18 months, followed by 10 years of probation, which included 500 hours of community service as well as speaking engagements.

During her first two months in the Palm Beach County Jail, Leslie rarely left her pod.

She was moved to an all-girls youthful offender program at the Hernando Correctional Institution, where she took Web design and substance abuse classes. In October 2004, she was transferred to a work-release program in West Palm Beach, where she lived in a college dormitory setting with 50 other women and worked part-time at a nearby Applebee's.

March 9 was her independence day.

Leslie now works 40 hours a week in sales for a Boca Raton finance firm and volunteers with Habitat for Huma - Tampa Bay Times


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Bio

Program title:
"Mommy I Killed Someone:” A true and moving story about the perils of drunk and distracted driving.

Program Description:
Jessica shares her personal experience regarding intoxicated and distracted driving, bringing people into her tragedy and triumph every time she speaks. Shocking her audiences with raw and honest testimonial, she empowers people to consider every decision they make and motivates them to pursue healthy and responsible decisions. Audiences of all ages, backgrounds, and circumstances are left with a greater sense of awareness and courage to make positive changes in their lives and effectuate change in others as well.

Bio:
Jessica Leslie has been a honored key-note speaker since 2005. Jessica has presented for organizations such as S.A.D.D., M.A.D.D., The United States Army, Departments of Corrections, and religious youth groups. Jessica speaks to thousands of teenagers every year. Her story is one of personal affliction, courage, and empowerment.

Jessica grew up in a small Massachusetts town, faced religious persecution at a young age, and learned the fine arts of music, dance, and writing. In high school, she participated in many clubs, including Marching Band, National Honors Society, and lived abroad with the High School in Israel program. Upon graduating in 1999, she went on to Florida Atlantic University as a Music Education Major. By 2001, Jessica had “lost her way” and decided to enlist in the United States Air Force following the events on September 11. While enrolled in the Delayed Entry Program, Jessica was the driver in a horrible crash that involved a fatality, changing many lives forever.

Jessica now lives to share her experiences and empower young people regarding the effects of destructive decisions. Jessica is currently enrolled as a Business Management Major at Berkeley College. She works in Finance, but she calls that her “money job.” Speaking is her “heart work.” She has been journaling since she was 16 years old and is in the process of compiling her writing to publish her first “tell all” autobiography.

Testimonials:
You have exhibited tremendous responsibility, perseverance, and grace through this long, arduous, frustrating... journey. Very proud of and inspired by you." - Glenn Leslie (does it count? He's my Uncle)

"My husband Seth, who taught 8th grade and heard your speech, was incredibly impressed with your presentation. So, even though you don't know me, I'm proud of your accomplishments." - Marcia Wachtel Weinstein

"I am very happy for you Jessica. People have choices after tragedies. You chose to make a positive impact and I know this is just the start! Fly birdie fly!" - Darcy Flierl

"Please continue on your mission of Prevention! I can't tell you what a difference you have made in so many people's lives." - Lois Behr

"You have chosen to give your life meaning and purpose. I am proud to say that I know you. Keep doing your thing!" - Kerry O'Donoghue